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External DAC + AMP for Hifiman Ananda with Macbook Pro 2020 as source

ASRaddict

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Hello,

I have recently purchased a Hifiman Ananda (not BT) and using it with my Macbook Pro. I do not have problem with loudness, but the bass sound is quite anemic. I am using Amazon HD music and Macbook supports 24bit/48khz, which is probably sufficient.

To be honest, I do not like the overall sound compared to my $18.00 apple earbuds - seems like the earbuds present the music better to me. However, it must be said that using the new headphones for the last 2 weeks has definitely trained my ears to understand some of the benefits of the new headphone - specially the way the cymbals and bells sound.

I can still hear 20Hz - 14 khz, and I have tried using several equalizers (Oratory, Amir, ...) but almost always I go back to flat. I am using AULab NBandEQ.

I am wondering if an external DAC + AMP would make any significant difference

On a separate note, the headphones are very comfortable on my head and I do not feel them at all. I do get a kick out of feeling that the center of my head is the microphone - sometimes enjoyable, sometimes weird coming from a speaker system
 

phrwn

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I don't think an amplifier will help, unless you get a bass-rolled tube amp. And a DAC absolutely should not make any difference; if it does it's not doing its job properly.

If you want more bass than EQ can help you with you likely need to switch to closed backs.
 
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ASRaddict

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Just got the topping L30 delivered from Amazon, and as @phrwn predicted, there is no difference in the audio quality direct, or over the external AMP. I set the gain to 0dB , and the volume knob on the topping is 12 O clock and the volume on my Macbook is near about 80%.

Listening to Lorde "Pure Heroine" Album between the direct, or with Topping makes no difference to the bass impact or quality.

And , level matching at 1K Hz between the Apple earpods and the Hifiman Ananda by ear, I find the bass more detailed and nuanced with the HFM, but more satisfying with the earpods. It is boomy vs dry I guess, and that cannot be fixed with EQ. Also, it appears that I need to boost the bass 10 db to get a perceived difference in volume with the HFM. However, I did not hear any distortion.

In the song "Green light" , it is clear that the HFM is sounding better compared to the earpods in the busy part of the song at the end with the distortion effect.

I guess I am learning about the law of diminishing returns :)
 

adamjohari

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Pretty sure when I installed my Topping D10s the sound improved considerably. Get a DAC.
 

charleski

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Some measurements of MacBook Pro built-in DACs:
http://archimago.blogspot.com/2013/04/measurements-laptop-audio-survey-apple.html
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...dio-output-of-a-macbook-pro.18276/post-596549
Not the greatest, but seems pretty serviceable. Of course these are looking at different models to yours.

Apple specs list the headphone output impedance as ‘< 24 Ω’.

[Edit] As far as EQ goes, I think it’s best to take the various recommendations as a starting point that you can use to build on. Getting the settings exactly right to suit your own personal preference can take some patience and practice. Personally, I’ve found it can take many months to focus in on exactly the right EQ curve. Don’t go for major differences, tweak gains by 1dB or less. Find sections of music that don’t sound right and experiment a bit (and remember that what we perceive as treble is actually around 1kHz). It can be useful to have a real-time analyser display to look at while doing this.
 
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ASRaddict

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Some measurements of MacBook Pro built-in DACs:
http://archimago.blogspot.com/2013/04/measurements-laptop-audio-survey-apple.html
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...dio-output-of-a-macbook-pro.18276/post-596549
Not the greatest, but seems pretty serviceable. Of course these are looking at different models to yours.

Apple specs list the headphone output impedance as ‘< 24 Ω’.

[Edit] As far as EQ goes, I think it’s best to take the various recommendations as a starting point that you can use to build on. Getting the settings exactly right to suit your own personal preference can take some patience and practice. Personally, I’ve found it can take many months to focus in on exactly the right EQ curve. Don’t go for major differences, tweak gains by 1dB or less. Find sections of music that don’t sound right and experiment a bit (and remember that what we perceive as treble is actually around 1kHz). It can be useful to have a real-time analyser display to look at while doing this.

Thank you for some excellent data and suggestions. My Macbook is 2020 model, so I am assuming that the specs are at least this good, if not better (most likely). As measured here, the Ananda is not sensitive to output impedance of the amplifier.

When I tested with a Toppings L30 amp connected, I could not hear any difference. My audio memory is terrible, and most likely anything that I heard differently is probably placebo/bias.

As you suggested, I have been playing with EQ tuning, and have installed a spectrum analyzer to see both the effect of the change in the spectrum and the sound. Small adjustments makes audible difference, and now I have the bass somewhere close to where I like it. I have added crossfeed to get the sound out of my head, and that helps a lot.

The Anandas so far like being played loud, and I am at 50% of the volume knob, but have a nagging worry that I may be hurting my ear. At 25%, I have enough loudness to hear the song, but the bass disappears, as expected.

I am surprised at how good the 2012 apple earpods sound compared to the Anandas. For a few of the online loudness tests, I am able to hear about 10 db lower with the earpods that the Ananda, after equalizing the Ananda and correcting for the sensitivity difference between the two.

And I am struggling to find that elusive "massive soundstage" unless massive means the size of my head :)
 
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ASRaddict

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Pretty sure when I installed my Topping D10s the sound improved considerably. Get a DAC.

My hearing is not what it used to be 50 years ago for sure, and I do not have golden ears.

That being said,I tried the L30 with the headphone out from my Integra 80.3 processor. Audio memory being what it is, I cannot say that I heard a dramatic difference (other than loudness) in the sound - but I will try the E30 + L30 combination and see if that makes a easily observable difference to me
 

Impeller

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Hello,

I think Im on a similar journey as you are. I, however went from apple earbuds to beats studio, then airpods and finally airpods pro, before I decided for the HIFIMAN Ananda which I got 2 weeks ago, the very reason for my purchase was in fact the increasing sound quality in this very simple progression, I've waited around 10 years to make this purchase, reason being, besides budget, I believe other factors including time, surrounding noise, the quality of my sources among others, wouldn't allow me to appreciate the investment. That said... I find the anandas bring a more immersive experience to listening, instrument separation is clear, soundstage, even when not impressive, its definitely a step beyond airpods. I heard someone describe the sound as being "taller" and I concur. Bass, voices, guitars, cymbals and snare are presented with more elegance and roundness, precise and natural sounds, I really like how this has made me enjoy my favorite tracks in a different way.

In my current setup, Im using Apple Lossless HI-RES (When available) as a source, thorugh a FiiO Q3 powering the Anandas through the balanced jack. I agree that sometimes the bass is lacking impact for which the FiiO has a hardware based bass boost which does not impact mids or trebble. In my view, not all songs require this, the gain function also works great, you get more than enough power and highly capable decoder.

Hope this helps
 
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ASRaddict

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Hello,

I think Im on a similar journey as you are. I, however went from apple earbuds to beats studio, then airpods and finally airpods pro, before I decided for the HIFIMAN Ananda which I got 2 weeks ago, the very reason for my purchase was in fact the increasing sound quality in this very simple progression, I've waited around 10 years to make this purchase, reason being, besides budget, I believe other factors including time, surrounding noise, the quality of my sources among others, wouldn't allow me to appreciate the investment. That said... I find the anandas bring a more immersive experience to listening, instrument separation is clear, soundstage, even when not impressive, its definitely a step beyond airpods. I heard someone describe the sound as being "taller" and I concur. Bass, voices, guitars, cymbals and snare are presented with more elegance and roundness, precise and natural sounds, I really like how this has made me enjoy my favorite tracks in a different way.

In my current setup, Im using Apple Lossless HI-RES (When available) as a source, thorugh a FiiO Q3 powering the Anandas through the balanced jack. I agree that sometimes the bass is lacking impact for which the FiiO has a hardware based bass boost which does not impact mids or trebble. In my view, not all songs require this, the gain function also works great, you get more than enough power and highly capable decoder.

Hope this helps

Thanks for your feedback - I appreciate.

However, even after a month of daily use, was left dissatisfied and I returned the headphones today. I was not enjoying the music (Amazon HD) - fear that my ears have long gone past the "use by date" - LOL

I am back looking for a nicer sounding headphone compared to my Apple Earpods (2012) - by all rankings (Oratory/AutoEQ/...) they are at the bottom of the list, so should be an easy bar to cross - but the Anandas did not do it for me. Maybe it it time to look into IEMs ? Closed backs are not an option as I do wear eyeglasses.
 

Impeller

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I see, have you given airpods pro a try? I don't know if this is blasphemy in this forum, in my ears they sound really nice and detailed, and they have some ANC which is also nice in some listening situations.
 
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ASRaddict

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I see, have you given airpods pro a try? I don't know if this is blasphemy in this forum, in my ears they sound really nice and detailed, and they have some ANC which is also nice in some listening situations.

Yes, I have tried the Airpods Pro - and they did sound very nice and detailed and balanced. More importantly, the sound was outside my head - which is critical for me, as I realized over the last month. On top of that, they are my wife's Airpods - so there is no end to her giving me a hard time about the huge headphones not sounding any better that the sleek ones she has.

I think, with headphones, the personal anatomy makes a bigger difference, so measurements are best a guideline to further experimentation. I have also found that I need to train myself to hear differently when I change headphone styles - the Ananda's certainly improved over time and use, which was more "breaking in the brain"

With EQ, I could get the sound more to my taste, but I would loose the spatial characteristics and I got tired of fiddling with the sliders.
 

brandall10

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[Edit] As far as EQ goes, I think it’s best to take the various recommendations as a starting point that you can use to build on.

Why not just go straight here and plug in Harman, then tweak?

https://github.com/jaakkopasanen/AutoEq/tree/master/results/oratory1990/harman_over-ear_2018/HIFIMAN Ananda

Using music as a reference to make small tweaks is crazy difficult. Sine sweeps, sure it works better, but still quite difficult and its dang easy to second guess yourself. But Harman is well liked by most and is a great starting point. Amir just uses rudimentary tweaks to approximate it when we have great, precise data above.
 
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ASRaddict

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Why not just go straight here and plug in Harman, then tweak?

https://github.com/jaakkopasanen/AutoEq/tree/master/results/oratory1990/harman_over-ear_2018/HIFIMAN Ananda

Using music as a reference to make small tweaks is crazy difficult. Sine sweeps, sure it works better, but still quite difficult and its dang easy to second guess yourself. But Harman is well liked by most and is a great starting point. Amir just uses rudimentary tweaks to approximate it when we have great, precise data above.

This was exactly the starting points - Oratory1990/Harman Curve. It was the best of the lot. I did try small tweaks and 20-15K sweeps, and got tired of the fiddling after a weeks worth of effort. I did notice that there is a resonant peak at 12K that was quite obvious in the sweeps and maybe was causing some fatigue.

I assumed that the problem was with the headphones as the same sweeps were uniform from 20-14/15khz with my $18 earpods - even after adjusting the pre-amp gain 10 dB lower to account for the difference in sensitivities between the earpods and ananda. The 20-50 hz range was more audible with the Earpods compared to the Ananda, even with the EQ settings from oratory1990.

I returned the unit this week - the sound did not live up to the billing (for me). All the reviews had probably gotten me over-hyped and I was expecting perhaps a bit too much.
 
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brandall10

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I returned the unit this week - the sound did not live up to the billing (for me). All the reviews had probably gotten me over-hyped and I was expecting perhaps a bit too much.

FWIW, a good friend of mine who has the Sundaras recently visited and was floored by the sound from my EQ'ed KSE1200s... he declared them simply the best he's ever heard. I agree, the clarity and the detail is freaky. We've been to a couple Canjams... I've been a member of Head-fi over 16 years, so it's not like we are inexperienced on the matter. You can get these used for about $1200, can't recommend them highly enough. They absolutely need to be EQ'ed though, like most e-stats the stock FR is pretty wonky.
 
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ASRaddict

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FWIWI, a good friend of mine has the Sundaras and was floored by the sound from my EQ'ed KSE1200s... he declared them simply the best he's ever heard. I agree. We've been to a couple Canjams... I've been a member of Head-fi over 16 years, so it's not like we are inexperienced on the matter. You can get these used for about $1200, can't recommend them highly enough. They absolutely need to be EQ'ed though, like most e-stats the stock FR is pretty wonky.

Thanks for suggesting the Shure KSE1200 - a bit over my budget (for now at least :)) as I cannot hear them before making a purchase, even though there are quite a few online retailers with excellent return policy.
 

brandall10

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Thanks for suggesting the Shure KSE1200 - a bit over my budget (for now at least :)) as I cannot hear them before making a purchase, even though there are quite a few online retailers with excellent return policy.

Just check the head-fi classifieds daily, one will pop up every month or so. Prices are bottom of market for used stuff and the items tend to be mint, so you can flip it for minimal loss. I've done this with about $50k of equipment over the years, almost everything bought used.
 

charleski

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Why not just go straight here and plug in Harman, then tweak?

https://github.com/jaakkopasanen/AutoEq/tree/master/results/oratory1990/harman_over-ear_2018/HIFIMAN Ananda

Using music as a reference to make small tweaks is crazy difficult. Sine sweeps, sure it works better, but still quite difficult and its dang easy to second guess yourself. But Harman is well liked by most and is a great starting point. Amir just uses rudimentary tweaks to approximate it when we have great, precise data above.
The Harman target is an aggregated preference curve. It's the best design target and a good starting point for EQ, but that's all. Tweaking the EQ so it best matches your own preference is a slow process, especially as the trickiest part is working out exactly what your own preference actually is. This can only be done with real music, I've wasted a fair amount of time listening to sweeps and they have very limited utility, especially if you have a set of decent measurements.

There is simply no 'one size fits all' EQ that will provide the best match for everyone, and I think a lot of the problems people encounter come from failing to understand this. Don't think you can get perfection by just plugging in some numbers you got off a website. It's taken me about a year to home in on the optimal EQ for my current headphones, making small tweaks and then evaluating them over a couple of weeks (because changes that sound impressive at first can end up proving problematic over time). But it's easily the most effective way of improving the sound quality.
 

brandall10

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The Harman target is an aggregated preference curve. It's the best design target and a good starting point for EQ, but that's all. Tweaking the EQ so it best matches your own preference is a slow process,

I've been an 'audiophile' for a couple decades now, I know very well what Sean Olive and co have been doing. Just like w/ Amir, Harman sounds correct to me, or at least correct enough, that my attempts to improve upon it have gone sideways.

For the vast majority of people it should sound great as-is.
 

charleski

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I've been an 'audiophile' for a couple decades now, I know very well what Sean Olive and co have been doing. Just like w/ Amir, Harman sounds correct to me, or at least correct enough, that my attempts to improve upon it have gone sideways.

For the vast majority of people it should sound great as-is.
Shrug. If it works for you that’s great, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be optimal for another individual, and it’s irresponsible to claim it is. Olive set out to develop a generalised design target and he produced a very good one. But that’s all it is, you’ll note the complete lack of any variance bars in his published work, even though we can hear changes as small as 0.5dB, particularly in the area where our ear is most sensitive (and the precise location of this in the loudness/frequency matrix again varies from person to person).

Optimising the EQ to match your own personal hearing preference takes some time and training, but it’s the single most effective way to improve sound quality (especially on headphones), and certainly a better course than running around buying different gear.
 

brandall10

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Olive set out to develop a generalised design target and he produced a very good one.

Shrug. I know what he did. One more time, the person who runs this site feels the same way as me.
 
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